Self-preservation and Surviving Caring for an Elderly Parent

My mother was given a maximum of six months to live so we brought her into our home to care for her last days. Three years later she was still with us! I share the insights and understanding that this time brought me and how you can keep your energy and spirits strong through what can be an intensely demanding and challenging time.

Getting help – the right kind at the right time

In my last article I addressed the issue of responsibility and how it can sit heavily on your shoulders when you are taking the entire care load of an elderly or infirm parent onto yourself. It’s really imperative that you get some help, if at all possible, to save your own health and to get the best for your parent or whoever you are supporting. The first step is to decide what help you need. Then be bold enough to ask for it whether it’s from the local council, a care agency or friends and family.

When my mother became ill and needed help I stepped into an entirely new world, the world of social services, Macmillan nurses, sleep in care, day care and all the apparatus that is needed for someone chronically sick from air mattresses to oxygen supplies. I was lucky. As soon as I offered to have my mother live with us my first port of call was the doctor’s surgery. There I was helped with names of agencies and as my mother was diagnosed with cancer among other things, we were connected to the McMillan Nursing support who were amazing. As my mother became more ill and frail so her needs grew and therefore I needed to get her more care. Here are some of the things I learnt on this journey with her.

Compatible Carers

One thing I quickly learnt was that it was imperative to find carers and helpers who my mother liked and who liked her! Not only was this important for her happiness but the spin off if she didn’t get along with them was that I and the agency had to repeat the effort of finding someone new. A girlfriend of mine went through five cleaners for her mother because she found fault in them or their work until she found someone who came from the same area of India as her mother, she then felt safe and comfortable with someone from her own culture and background. Everyone I know who has been through this process has agreed that finding the right carer is more important than finding just anyone to do the job and a little more time spent up front getting it right saves lots of frustration and heartache further down the line. Also, it is helpful to tell the carers a little of your parent’s background and history for this can open doors to conversation and friendship. I was very lucky and one of my mother’s main carers became a close friend to her and our family; she was not only excellent at her job but she also took an interest in my mother and read to her and shared her stories. As in all situations in life a little love goes a long way to easing these difficult times and the love can come not only from yourself. Set an intention to find the love for your mother or father and the universe will respond.

Act sooner rather than later.

Several of my friends have tried to do all the caring themselves and where this may have started with weekly visits to do shopping, manage home maintenance, help with bill paying etc. this quickly escalated to the need for visits several times a week to cook meals and do cleaning and so on. Most of them have tried to do it all for too long and made themselves quite sick as they sacrificed not only their own time but that of their partners. We naturally give this care from our hearts but we must always remember to honour our own lives and health. My advice is to try and get ahead of the game and as you experience the first signs or stress and any sense of being overwhelmed by the work and time involved then make moves to get in extra help and be prepared to stand back a little and let others get involved.

Getting other people involved.

The most successful situations with caring for an elderly parent are where everyone in the family gets involved and that includes teenagers and children. There is a role for everyone and an opportunity for everyone to feel the love and fulfilment that caring brings. A woman I know is a facilitator for organising family help for troubled teenagers. She gets everyone in the family together and puts on a simple buffet of food and explains the needs of the child and asks what each member of the family (and friends too) can do to help. This is a great method to use to find the help you need. Children can read to their grandparents and sit with them for a while each week, men can fix the things in the home and everyone can take turns in shopping. When a family is scattered weekends can be offered and there is usually someone in the family who can spare a little money to pay for professional help when it’s needed. When a burden is shared it is lighter. Don’t hesitate to ask as you will be giving everyone a chance to gain and learn something from the experience.

I am convinced that the growing number of elderly in our society is offering us an opportunity to spread love and compassion and to give us time to allow different generations to get closer.

Apart from private agencies, social services and MacMillan nursing there are now some new ideas coming into fruition where your parent can share their home with a student who needs a bed in return for some services. This great idea which started in The Netherlands has worked successfully in some care homes and is now available for private homes here too. It has the advantage of allowing independent living for longer for the elderly and also helping students or young people who can’t afford a home of their own. I suggest you google home sharing to find a not-for-profit organisation near you that organises the process for you.

Just remember throughout this challenging time of your life to ask for help. It’s spiritually empowering to seek help and be open to all opportunities that the universe offers; don’t let your sense of pride, fear of rejection or a sense of duty stop you from opening your arms to allow love and support come into your life and that of your parent.

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